Last week, I appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs as part of its study on the impact and utilization of culture and arts in foreign policy and diplomacy. I was asked to consider the impact of Canadian copyright in foreign diplomacy, leading to an interesting and engaging discussion that touched on everything from the changes to the IP provisions in the TPP to the legality of streaming services. My opening remarks, which emphasized the potential for Canada to engage in copyright diplomacy by serving as model for other countries, is posted below.
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While the NAFTA negotiations in Montreal were expected to be the lead trade story this week, the Trans Pacific Partnership talks in Tokyo have stolen the show with the remaining 11 countries reaching agreement on a deal that is likely to be signed in March. Canada faced intense criticism last year from some TPP partners (particularly Japan and Australia) over its demands to address concerns with the agreement. That sparked some Canadian business groups to quickly call on the government to simply cave in order to conclude a deal. Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne rightly argued that capitulation is not a negotiating strategy and they now come away with an improved (albeit still flawed) agreement.
After months of public consultation and debate, Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly will unveil the government’s plan for Canadian content in a digital world this week. Joly launched the digital Cancon consultation in the spring of 2016 by emphasizing that all policy options were on the table, but the choices have narrowed considerably in recent months.
My Globe and Mail op-ed notes that a potential Netflix tax was a non-starter due to a 2015 election campaign commitment, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau eliminated the possibility of an Internet tax in June, and the government has steadfastly (and rightly) defended net neutrality, meaning there will be no mandated prioritization of Canadian content on the Internet.
Unnecessary at Best, Harmful at Worst: Melanie Joly Seeks Global Consensus on Culture Contributions from Digital Services
Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly heads to UNESCO this week where, according to the Globe and Mail, she will be focused on making the case for a common approach on mandatory cultural contributions from companies such as Netflix. Joly states:
I’ve always said we are ready to have conversations with those companies and those platforms. We are already engaged with them, and will continue to do so. But on a general level, it is obvious that the more we are able to have a concerted approach among countries on this issue, the better we will be able to make sure it is a priority.
Joly’s goal would appear to be to develop a universal position at UNESCO that countries could then leverage to force companies such as Netflix to comply with local content regulations. I’m quoted in the article to the effect that efforts to harmonize sales taxes on digital services makes sense at a global level, but targeting companies like Netflix with new regulations or tinkering with the Internet in violation of fundamental net neutrality principles does not.